YanBibl 06-9-147      




Philip Yancey

Zondervan, 1999, 219 pp.  ISBN 0-310-24566-4


Yancey is editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine.  He is the author of more than a dozen Christian books.  Yancey appeals to audiences partly because of his amazing insight and partly because he deals forthrightly with issues that trouble him, which are issues that trouble most of us.  “…the best way I know to struggle is to write about whatever is bothering me.” (10)  In this book he looks at the Old Testament as a whole and individually at Job, Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and the Prophets.


“I find in these particular [Old Testament] books companions for my pilgrimage.  In them, I discover myself—and for this reason I have written about them personally and subjectively, not analytically.” (9)


“I find the Old Testament to be, above all, realistic.”  “The Old Testament portrays the world as it is, no holds barred.” (11)


Two main barriers to reading the Old Testament: “It doesn’t always make sense, and what sense it does make offends modern ears.” (18)  [But the Old Testament] “taught me about Life with God: not how it is supposed to work, but how it actually does work.” (21)


“…imagine a book begun five hundred years before Columbus and just now completed.  The Bible’s striking unity is one strong sign that God directed its composition.  By using a variety of authors and cultural situations, God developed a complete record of what he wants us to know; amazingly, the parts fit together in such a way that a single story does emerge.” (21)


“Western civilization builds so directly on foundations laid in the Old Testament era that it would not otherwise make sense.  As Cahill points out, the Jewish belief in monotheism gave us a Great Whole, a unified universe that can, as a product of one Creator, be studied and manipulated scientifically.” (22)


“Most assuredly we cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old.” (23)


“Without exception, every New Testament author wrote about the new world of God on earth while looking through the prism of the earlier or ‘old’ work.” (24)


“These are the prayers Jesus prayed, the poems he memorized, the songs he sang, the bedtime stories he heard as a child, the prophecies he pondered.” (25)


“The disciples knew Moses and the Prophets but could not conceive how they might relate to Jesus the Christ.  The modern church knows Jesus the Christ but is fast losing any grasp of Moses and the Prophets.” (25)


“If we had only the Gospels, we would envision a God who seems confined, all-too-human, and rather weak…” (26)  “…the Old Testament is our most complete revelation of what God is like.” (27)


[In the Old Testament] “we hear the consistent message that this world revolves around God, not us.” “The world, they believed, is God’s property.  And human life is ‘sacred,’ which simply means that it belongs to God to do with what he wills.  This Old Testament notion sounds very un-American.” (28)


“…we have much to learn from a people whose daily lives centered on God.” (29)


“At times God’s history seems to operate on an entirely different plane than ours.”  “God does not seem impressed by size or power or wealth.  Faith is what he wants, and the heroes who emerge are heroes of faith, not strength or wealth.” (32)


“Out of their tortured history, the Jews demonstrate the most surprising lesson of all: you cannot go wrong personalizing God.” (33)


“The Jews gave us all a sense of Destiny, that we exist not in a meaningless world, nor to act out some god’s whim, but we exist to fulfill a meaningful Destiny ordained for us by a personal God.” (37)


Job: Seeing in the Dark

“Seen as a whole, the book of Job is about faith, the story of one man selected to undergo a staggering ordeal by trial.”  “It helps to think of Job as a mystery play….”  “Will Job believe in God or deny God?” (49)


[Job] “has been selected as the principal subject in a great contest of the heavens.  Job represents the very best of the species, and God is using him to prove to Satan that a human being’s faith can be genuine and selfless, not dependent on God’s good gifts.” (50)


“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge.  For the modern man the roles are reversed.  He is the judge….”  (53, quoting C. S. Lewis)


“Job is on trial.  The book does not provide answers to the problem of pain….”  “The point is faith: Where is Job?  How is he responding?” (53)


“Job holds tight to a belief in justice and a personal God in spite of the mountainous evidence against that belief, because to him the alternatives look far worse.” (59)


“God criticizes Job for only one thing, his limited point of view.”  “To correct that misconception, God expands Job’s range of vision from his own miserable circumstances to the entire universe.” (62)


“The context has dealt with Job’s faith….  Satan gambled.  And he loses.  Job’s character holds up.” (62)


The book is really not about suffering but about faith.  (63)  “Job convinces me that God cares more about our faith than our pleasure.” (63) 


“Somehow, in a way the book only suggests and does not explain, one person’s faith made a difference.  That, to me, is the most powerful and enduring lesson from the book of Job.”  “We are foot soldiers in a spiritual battle with cosmic significance.” (65)  “God has given ordinary men and women the dignity of participating in the redemption of the cosmos.” (66-7)


Deuteronomy: A Taste of Bittersweet

Deuteronomy is the first full-blown oratory and the record of Moses’ final words, his last chance to set the record straight and get history down for all to follow.  (76-7)  Moses’ theme in life: God did it. (78)  The main lesson: the mission was God’s, not his. (84)    His primary message: “Remember.”  He started the great tradition of oral history. (87)


“Success, not failure, is the greatest danger facing any follower of God….” (89)


“When God makes a list of commandments, Love takes first place, the basis of his whole relationship with humanity.” (93)


“After Moses, nothing was the same again.” (100)


Psalms: Spirituality in Every Key

“For years I avoided the book of Psalms.”  “With uncanny consistency I would land on a psalm that aggravated, rather than cured, my problem.” (109)


“I had missed the main point, which is that the book of Psalms comprises a sampling of spiritual journals, much like personal letters to God.”  “I must read them as an over-the-shoulder’ reader since the intended audience was not other people, but God.” (112)


“…the psalms are poetry, and poetry’s function is not to explain but to offer images and stories that resonate with our lives.” (113)  “Now, as I read them, I begin by trying to project myself back into the minds of those authors….”  “Then I proceed to think through situations in which I might pray the psalm in front of me.” (114)


“I come to the Psalms not primarily as a student wanting to acquire knowledge, but rather as a fellow pilgrim wanting to acquire relationship.”  More than any other book in the Bible, Psalms reveals what a heartfelt, soul-starved, single-minded relationship with God looks like.” (115)


“Somehow, David and the other poets managed to make God the gravitational center of their lives so that everything related to God.”   To them, worship was the central activity in life…” (132)


Ecclesiastes: The End of Wisdom

“Carl Jung reported that a third of his cases suffered from no definable neurosis other than ‘the senselessness and emptiness of their lives.’  He went on to name meaninglessness the general neurosis of the modern era…..” (144)


“G. K. Chesterton once wrote, ‘All men matter.  You matter.  I matter.  It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.’” (145)


“That key word meaningless appears thirty-five times, drumming home the there from beginning to end.” (145)  “Life is unfair.  Nothing makes sense; the whole world seems off-balance and twisted.” (146)


“…the whole tone of Ecclesiastes reflects the tenor of King Solomon’s time, when Israel reached its zenith as a nation.” (148)  Despair arises out of plenty rather than deprivation. (149)


“The Teacher’s burden, unlike Job’s, did not involve personal misfortune but was, to the contrary, a burden of excess.” (151)  “Good times represent the real danger; our best efforts spell run.  In short, human beings are not gods, and that realization drove the Teacher to despair.” (157)


“Where did our sense of beauty and pleasure come from?  That seems to me a huge question—the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians.”  G. K. Chesterton credits pleasure, or eternity in his heart, as the signpost that eventually directed him to God.” (158)


“Ecclesiastes endures as a work of great literature and a book of great truth because it presents both sides of life on this planet: the promise of pleasures so alluring that we may devote our lives to their pursuit, and then the haunting realization that these pleasures ultimately do not satisfy.” (159)


“In the end, the Teacher freely admits that life does not make sense outside of God and will never fully make sense because we are not God.” (160)


“Solomon’s kingdom succeeds by accumulation; Jesus’ kingdom succeeds by self-sacrifice.”  “Ecclesiastes has an eerily modern ring to it because we have not learned its most basic lessons.  We too chase the allure of the visible kingdom.” (163)


“Unlike the Teacher, most modern writers blame God, or the lack of God, for the human condition.  Few instead perceive despair as a symptom of our humble need for God.” (164)


The Prophets: God Talks Back

“In chapter after chapter they deal with the very same themes that hang like a cloud over our century: the silence of God, economic disparity, in justice, war, the seeming sovereignty of evil, the unrelieved suffering that afflicts our world.”  “I came to see them as acute witnesses to the dilemma of being human.” (174)


“The most amazing feature of the prophets…is that God answers the prophets’ bracing questions.  He storms and explodes, defending the way he runs the world.  He blocks their complaints with some complaints of his own.” (175)


“Above all else, the prophets repeat the constant refrain of the Old Testament, that we matter to God.” (177)


“God feels delight, and frustration, and anger.  He weeps and moans with pain.  Again and again God is shocked by the behavior of human beings….” “The main message expressed by the prophets boils down to this: God loves human beings.” (178)


“God’s cries of pain and anger are the cries of a wounded lover, distressed over our lack of response.”  “As he explains through Isaiah, he has no choice: if a world refuses to learn righteousness through grace, he must resort to punishment.”  “Each time, God promises never to give up, always to love.” (179)


“There is one compelling reason [to read the prophets]: to get to know God.  The prophets are the Bible’s most forceful revelation of God’s personality.” (180)


“Instinctively, we want to fly to the future.  The prophets point us back to the present, yet ask us to live in the light of the future they image up.” (187)


“The prophets call us beyond the fears and grim reality of present history to the view of all eternity, to a time when God’s reign will fill the earth with light and truth.”  “In a word, the prophets offer us hope.” (193)  “By giving a glimpse of the future, and of the cosmic present, they make it possible for us to believe in a just God after all.” (194)


Advance Echoes of a Final Answer

“I have learned to love the Old Testament because it so poignantly expresses my own inner longings.” (199)


“I was struck by how meticulously Jesus connected himself to the Old Testament.”  “…Jesus is the Rosetta stone of faith whose existence explains all that goes before.” (200)  “In a sense, all of Old Testament history serves as a preparation for Jesus….”  “Of the whole of Scripture there are two parts: the law and the gospel….  The law indicates the sickness, the gospel the remedy.”  (201)


Three questions attract most of my doubts.  “I return again and again to the Old Testament because it faces head-on these very questions.  Do I matter?  Does God care?  Why doesn’t God act?  These are the watershed of my faith.  If Jesus is the answer for me, then he must somehow speak to these three questions.” (21)


“We may not get the answer to the problem of pain that we want from Jesus.  We get instead the mysterious confirmation that God suffers with us.” (210)


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